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A Dry Idea

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  • | 9:41 a.m. January 27, 2012
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As the head of a lab at 3M Corp., Paul Johansen could marshal some of the resources of the $27 billion company.

Now, as a lone entrepreneur in Naples, the retired mechanical engineer has no staff to rely on for a device he invented that keeps the contents of a lanai dry when it starts raining.

But 3M's entrepreneurial culture served Johansen well after he retired from the company in 1997 at age 56, and he has found the right people to help him patent and manufacture his invention.

Like many entrepreneurial ventures that start out of personal necessity, Johansen soon learned that anything he left on the lanai of his Naples condo could be drenched by one of Florida's rainstorms.

So Johansen created a wireless device connected to a sensor that automatically closes his electric shutters at the first drop of rain. His neighbors and friends thought it was so clever that they wanted one too and urged him to form a company to build, sell and install the device. “It was a challenge I couldn't turn down,” says Johansen, who originally planned to spend retirement playing tennis and writing books.

But it took five years from when Johansen incorporated his company to the time he had his first commercial sale of the device he now calls DryLanai. To boost the marketing and sales, Johansen is seeking equity investors who would be willing to buy about 30% of the company he's formed, PJNF Technologies, and help guide its growth. (The initials stand for Paul Johansen Naples Florida.)

Johansen won't say how much of his own savings he's spent on DryLanai, but he's obtained a patent on the device, had it certified by an organization that sets industry safety standards and developed sophisticated marketing materials including a website with a professionally filmed video ( “I've got more in this product than in my house,” he says.

Even after the recession, Johansen figures there are 875,000 homes in the Southeast that could afford the $1,100 to $1,300 it costs to buy and have an electrician install the DryLanai system. Fact is, lanais are getting bigger and people are furnishing these outdoor living spaces with more expensive furniture and electronics. “I've got a customer who put a 40-inch TV on his lanai,” Johansen says.

But the process from idea to sales has been a long one. Johansen applied for the patent in 2005, but it was granted in March 2008. In addition to that bureaucracy, Johansen says he had to get approval from the Federal Communications Commission because the DryLanai is a wireless device. And it took six months for Underwriters Laboratories, an independent organization that tests devices for safety, to approve the device.

With the help of Oldsmar-based Electronic Design Associates, which helped Johansen design the specifications for manufacturers, Chapman Tool & Dye in Brooksville started making the injection molds in late 2008. In spring 2009, EMC, a small manufacturing firm in Tampa, started making the devices. “That's when I decided not to get a new car for five years,” chuckles Johansen, noting that was when the financial crisis reached its peak.

Johansen says it took him so long because he chose to do his own legwork. “In a corporation, you can do that in six months,” he says. What's more, he decided not to seek financing from people close to him. “I didn't want to involve my friends,” he says. “I wouldn't want a failure to affect that.”

But the DryLanai is now at a point where it's commercially viable and he's seeking investors to boost marketing and sales. He's expecting 240 sales this year, or about $240,000 in revenues, and $1 million in 2013.

Now 70, Johansen says he's likely to gradually sell out of the business. “I'm good for another two to four years,” he says. If he makes a successful exit from the company, Johansen says he'll use the proceeds to pay for his grandchildren's college education.


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